There are few things in the National Football League that are less sexy than building the middle of your defense.

Ask the average NFL fan to name five starting nose tackles across the league and prepare for blank stares. Ask the average pundit about the top middle linebackers in the game and most will scoff and tell you that an elite middle linebacker barely even matters anymore. And long since passed are the days where 6-foot-3, 230-pound safeties bludgeoned running backs and wide receivers alike into submission on virtually every play.

Yet building solidly up the middle still matters in the NFL, something that the Denver Broncos would certainly attest to. That is, if they’re being honest with themselves.

During the past three years, there has been no shortage of opinions when it comes to Denver’s D. Improvement, personnel shifts and a very specific scheme led to some impressive numbers at times; most notably, top-10 finishes against the pass and the run in 2014. What those numbers mean is still being debated a week after the Super Bowl and a month after Denver was eliminated by the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Getting into the numbers debate is not the purpose here. Suffice to say that I think most people would agree that Denver’s No. 3 yardage defense was at least a little bit of a mirage. After watching the NFL playoffs, convincing the world that Denver had the third-best defense in the league would be a monumental undertaking.

But why?

They have three talented cover corners, two elite outside pass-rushers, safeties that can hit and linebackers that can flat out cover ground; that all sounds pretty good. Sure, it felt like Jack Del Rio, the orchestrator of the group, needed constant reminders that blitzing is still n actual “thing,” but that in and of itself does not explain the multiple collapses of the unit against any sort of competent coaching.

What does explain it is the middle. From failed draft picks to underwhelming free agency signings to straight-up neglect, Denver has struggled for years to find solutions in the middle of the defense.

Quick, what difference-maker have the Broncos placed at middle linebacker since the retirement of Al Wilson? Who was the last defensive tackle that really pushed the pocket and made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks? When is the last time that Denver drafted and developed an elite safety, rather than bringing in an older, slower version of a player who used to do it all?

Too often, the answers given to these questions is the same: They don’t need to have elite talent at those positions. They’ve done just fine without difference-makers up the middle.

The problem is that John Elway didn’t get into this line of work to be “just fine.”

Elway’s track record with the draft (and undrafted free agents) has been a mixed bag over his first few seasons at the helm. Unfortunately, the places he’s missed have been almost exclusively up the middle.

Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams and Rahim Moore are draft picks with first- and second-round expectations that are performing at a fourth- or fifth-round level. Plus, there’s been a parade of linebackers who seem to always end up as special teams stalwarts.

Free agency has also been a mixed bag for Elway’s defenses. Guys like T.J. Ward and Terrance Knighton have come on board to push their position groups to the next level, but instead have fallen somewhere between “better than what we had before” and “not quite what we expected.”

Again, most of these guys are just fine, but that’s not what the Broncos are going for. That’s certainly not the expectation that Elway has for his players, or the expectation that fans have of Elway.

At this point, it’s become critical for Denver to do something about the middle of their defense. As it stands right now, hoping for better health appears to be the plan at linebacker and re-signing Knighton appears to be the team’s immediate answer at nose tackle with the incoming Wade Philips and his 3-4 scheme.

I hate to break this to you, but that’s not going to be enough of an upgrade.

What then? Spend more draft picks on defensive tackles that often take years to develop or eat their way out of the game? Bring in another middle linebacker at the end of his rope and hope that his health holds up all year? Chase one or both starting safeties in favor of the next 37-year-old future Hall of Famer to “mentor” the younger players on the defense?

In reality, all of those scenarios would just be giving lip service to a problem that could realistically prevent Denver from a Super Bowl again in 2015.

Not every solution may have presented itself at this point, but Elway and Co. need to put a premium on building up the middle this offseason. It may not be sexy, but there will be plenty of time for that when Denver hoists the Lombardi Trophy next season.